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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pull Back By Serbs Starts Up

PALE, Bosnia -- Russia scored a major diplomatic success on Thursday as Bosnian Serbs began a significant withdrawal of heavy guns around Sarajevo in accordance with a Kremlin proposal.

Moscow's special envoy Vitaly Churkin said that under the agreement Russian troops would be rushed to the area around the Bosnian capital to bolster the United Nations cease-fire operation that has kept the peace in the city for the past week.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who held talks with Churkin at the Serb headquarters in Pale, just outside Sarajevo, said he accepted the Russian proposal, adding:

"We do think that war in Sarajevo is finally over."

A spokesman for the United Nations Protection Force in Sarajevo, Bill Aikman, later reported a major pullback of Serb heavy weaponry from the city.

"We have news of a very significant withdrawal of Bosnian Serb forces off the hills around Sarajevo," Aikman said. "We are talking about convoys of equipment moving off the hills."

He said the withdrawal contrasted with earlier reports that had Serbs pulling back only individual pieces of equipment.

British Lieutenant General Sir Michael Rose, commander of U.N. troops in Bosnia, told reporters he had been informed by Bosnian Serb military officials that they will have their equipment off the hills around the capital within 24 hours.

NATO had threatened air strikes against besieging Bosnian Serbs if they failed to withdraw or give up control of heavy weapons surrounding the city by midnight on Sunday.

In an interview with Russian teleheavy weapons surrounding the city by midnight on Sunday.

In an interview with Russian television, Churkin said the Bosnian Serb agreement to withdraw weapons made NATO's air strikes threat redundant.

"We can say that any air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions are ruled out for the simple reason there will be no targets for these strikes to hit," he said.Russia is a traditional ally of the Serbs, with whom it shares the Orthodox religion, and has been opposed to the use of air strikes as a means to end the war.

The Russian proposal was contained in a letter from President Boris Yeltsin to Karadzic and to his main backer in Belgrade, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, with whom Churkin has met three times since Saturday as part of an intensive round of shuttle diplomacy.

Churkin said 400 Russian troops currently on peacekeeping duties in Croatia would be sent immediately to the Sarajevo area and 400 more would be despatched from Russia itself.

Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic, however, said that he would reject the deployment of Russian U.N. troops to control Serb weaponry around Sarajevo.

"As you know the Russians are not neutral in the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina," he said. "They didn't go along with this NATO peace process. We're certainly not welcoming Russians to guard Serbian weapons. We would rather let them keep our weapons than Serb weapons."

The White House also reacted cautiously to reports.

"Obviously, if the Serbs comply (with the NATO ultimatum) ... that would be good news," White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers said.

European Union peace mediator Lord Owen told BBC Radio that he welcomed the Russian initiative.

"I think there is much less chance now of air strikes starting on Monday," Owen said. "I think it is good news. The Russian Federation have played a very active and constructive role in the peace process."